In Batgirl #37, out this week,our costumed crimefighter battled an evil doppleganger in a rhinestone-studded Batgirl costume. At first it seemed like the Dark Knight Damsel just had herself a brat for an arch-rival, the kind of girl who checks her Facebook likes as she robs a bank.
Spoilers ahead, everyone.
We soon learn, however, that this copycat bat is Dagger Type, a pretentious artist—and a man in drag. (At one point, Batgirl actually shouts “Dagger Type?!? But you’re a …”)
Eventually Dagger upgrades from bank-robbing to attempted mass murder, as he starts firing his gun into a crowd of “styleless Neanderthals” who don’t appreciate his genius. Then we learn this maniacal drag queen’s ultimate goal is to kill Batgirl so he can assume her identity.
Reading the issue yesterday, I was troubled: There’s a lot of good representations of LGBT people in mainstream comics, but we’re not so far away from a time when sadistic sissies and insane lesbian types were the norm—in comics, and pop culture in general.
There’s nothing wrong with having an LGBT villain—just like there’s nothing wrong with having a black villain, or a Hispanic villain. But when that villain treads in so many ugly stereotypes, and is being served to a primarily straight audience, it gives you pause.
If the villain in Batgirl #37 was named LaQuanda, wore Juicy Couture and fired bullets from her weave, you could see how people might have a problem.
I should mention that Batgirl was recently revamped with a new editorial team. The previous writer, Gail Simone, is an icon to LGBT comic fans—beloved for her portrayal of strong female and queer characters. Batgirl’s new writers, Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, are straight white guys.
I have absolutely no reason to think they’re homophobic, but the issue felt… tone-deaf.
I should also mention that the revamped Batgirl has a decidedly “millennial” feel—lots of Tweeting, angst and characters saying they “can’t even.” Fletcher told MTV recently, “Our take on Batgirl mixes the best elements of Veronica Mars and Girls, with a dash of Sherlock thrown in for good measure.”
Fans of the older, grittier version of the comic haven’t taken to this reboot—myself included.
So I’m self-aware enough to know I might be seeing something that’s not there because I just don’t care for the product.
I posted about the issue on Gay League, a popular LGBT comics group on Facebook, to see how others felt. It was fairly split between people who also thought Dagger Type was an unfortunate choice, and people (mostly younger) who thought it was just another freaky bad guy in a fictional universe where people dress up like penguins, cats, plants and playing cards.
There were also some people who loved the character, interpreting Dagger as an homage to Divine and old-school queer transgressiveness. (A few people claimed we couldn’t tell if Dagger was gay, but I think the majority of people, rightly or wrongly, assume a drag queen is a gay man.)
The likelihood is that most of you didn’t read Batgirl #37—and don’t even read comics on a regular basis. But certainly the issue of queer representation bleeds across pop culture. And raises the question if we’ve reached the point where we don’t have to be cautious—where we can have killer-queen villains, or gay characters with mysterious illnesses, and it doesn’t have to “mean something.”
I’ve reached out to DC to get Stewart’s take on the matter, and will update this story when I hear back. But I’m curious what all of you think: Do we still need to tread carefully when creating LGBT characters in mainstream film, TV and comics? Or am I just stuck in the past, unable to see that the new generation wasn’t raised on Buffalo Bill, James Bond and Braveheart, and wouldn’t take Dagger Type as anything more than another villain in the Bat Family’s rogue’ gallery.
Share your thoughts below.